ANGEL-A What if you took It’s a Wonderful Life, replaced George Bailey with a scruffy Parisian con man and swapped Henry Travers’ doddering guardian angel for the half-naked chick with the $10 million pasties from Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale? You’d wind up in the humid imagination of La Femme Nikita writer-director Luc Besson. In this amiably inconsequential fairy tale, one-armed Moroccan-born comic Jamel Debbouze draws on his sawed-off, scrappy charm as a quick-talking Brooklyn-based loser who’s about to jump into the Seine to avoid his gambling debts, when suddenly a literal suicide blonde (Rie Rasmussen) materializes on the same bridge. When the leggy sprite and her companion aren’t wandering a desolate, neon-flecked City of Lights — shot in silvery black-and-white — the portentously named Angela (geddit?) throws roundhouse kicks in a bid to restore her man’s latent decency. Is she the director’s muse? Is expat Debbouze’s love-hate relationship with Paris symbolic of Besson’s own tenuous position in Gaulywood, where he functions as a kind of Gallic Jerry Bruckheimer? There’s little beyond the surface-deep pleasures of this talky, balky, strangely subdued distaff riff on Wings of Desire, although the knockabout pairing of the raffish Debbouze and the gawky Rasmussen provides ungainly sweetness. But the loony grand passion and profligate imagination of Besson’s sci-fi whatsit The Fifth Element are sorely missed. (Sunset 5; NuWilshire; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Jim Ridley)

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GO POISON FRIENDS Elusive, arch and very French, Emmanuel Bourdieu’s second feature presents a clique of over-sophisticated Paris university students all passionately involved in articulating themselves. Eloi (Malik Zidi) and his friend Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger) come under the spell of the charismatic André (Thibault Vinçon), a classmate who delivers an impromptu disquisition on “necessary writing” that amazes the sullen lecture hall. A ridiculously self-assured know-it-all, given to quoting Karl Kraus, André assigns himself the responsibility of managing his hopelessly impressed disciples’ academic (and amorous) careers. Alexandre’s theatrical aspirations are diverted from play writing to acting; the indecisive Eloi, who has ambitions to write fiction and whose mother is a well-known novelist, is steered toward undertaking a dissertation on James Ellroy. (“He’s the great one,” André declares with a soon-familiar tone that brooks no disagreement.) But even as this bullying meta-writer manipulates his followers in a scenario of his own devising, events take a turn beyond his control. Bourdieu manages a tightrope act here: The movie is largely unclassifiable — at once a psychological study, an exceedingly dry comedy, and a moral tale in which stories are purloined and frauds perpetrated. Poison Friends may be all talk, but it’s cut like an action flick. (Music Hall) (J. Hoberman)

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